When Jesus began to teach, He said to the people, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15
The law: the outward things
The time had come to give the people a message with could give them true help! The law which the people had until that time held themselves to, was given to Moses, and was a part of God’s good will. It was a covenant between God and His people. But what the law could lead them to was nothing more than a way of life that was blameless in the outward. When they did as the law instructed, everything was in order. When they didn’t manage to keep the law, they had to sacrifice something in order to be freed from the guilt they had incurred by breaking the law. The offerings had to be repeated, because they continually sinned.
In addition to the laws, they had many regulations. One could keep the outward righteousness by following the laws and regulations, and thereby be looked up to by one’s fellow men. Jesus said that this righteousness was without worth, as long as sin dwelled in the heart. He came with something that was completely new in regard to the law that was given through Moses. But Jesus didn’t take away the law, He fulfilled it. (Matthew 5:17) He even kept the commandments God had given to the people to help them live a good life.
The Pharisees and the scribes saw themselves as righteous; they kept the law to the letter, and were proud of it. They were insulted by what Jesus said and did; they took offense. They kept watch over Jesus to try and find something to accuse Him with. Once they came to Jesus and asked, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Matthew 15:2. Jesus used this opportunity to illustrate that the “purity” that the Pharisees emphasized, was an outward purity. He said it like this, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.” Matthew 5:19.
An inner life
Jesus taught that people become free from sin by serving God in the inner life, and by saying no to the temptations to sin. He taught His disciples about this. In the “Sermon on the Mount” He says, among other things, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28. The law focuses on works, and people can manage to stay free from most sinful deeds in their own strength. But what about the sinful thoughts of the heart? There the law was powerless. (Romans 8:3)
In the society in which Jesus lived, it was accepted that you should hate your enemies and take revenge on those who committed injustice against you. Jesus took up this topic when He preached the new message, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. … You have heard it that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:38-45
A new covenant
Such guidelines for life were something completely new and radical. Through His life and His resurrection, Jesus came with a new covenant: He made it possible for people to get a completely pure heart. Instead of hatred and revenge, the heart can be filled with forgiveness and intercession. “There is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God … by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.” Hebrews 7:19,22.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6. He said this before He was crucified and resurrected, but He could predict that those who believed in Him would get the power of faith to go the same way He did. He entreated the disciples to follow in His tracks and take up their cross daily. They also had to crush Satan under their feet, through nailing their self-life and their own will to the cross, i.e. a symbolic cross that they should carry with them in their minds.
When Jesus was perfected “He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Hebrews 5:9. Through obedience His disciples can come into the same development as Jesus. All those who choose to believe in Jesus and follow Him as Lord have that same opportunity. These are the glad tidings!